12.31.2011

Nick Daws' Course (Writing Course Review)

Many months ago, I noticed in the ads at the top of my gmail inbox, an advertisement to "How to Write a Book - Special offer, with 100% satisfaction guarantee". Out of curiosity, and always looking for ways to improve my craft, I followed the link to Writequickly.com where the following was stated in large bold letters:

"You Can Write Your Next Book or Script In UNDER 28 DAYS, Working 1 Hour a Day Max. And That's 100% GUARANTEED!"


They further promised that this book would be accepted by a publisher within three months. I thought "this sounds way too good to be true" and usually things that sound too good are too good to be true. However, they had a 100% money back guarantee, so I thought I'd call their bluff and ordered a copy of the course.

I recieved it fairly quickly and dove right into the course. Mr. Daws' claims might actually be true for nonfiction. Most of the techniques taught are geared towards nonfiction and I can see how they might work. However, I didn't find many of them very useful for fiction, especially since many sections of the course contained no information at all about how certain techniques could be carried over to fiction writing (probably because they can't).

That is not to say it's a bad course or that I didn't take anything useful from it. Overall, the course is quite good, and I definitely learned a few "tricks" that I had not found in any of the other divers "how to write" books I've collected. One of the great strengths of the course is Mr. Daws' infectious enthusiasm. His course even helped me to get the Call to Arms Cycle "jump started" with good tips on devising a plot and on executing said plot. I didn't write it in 28 days, however, and I did spend close to an hour every day working on it, plus am a fairly fast typer (I had not yet switched over to pen-and-paper). I don't think it's possible to write anything worthwhile in 28 hours total writing time. Certainly not a full novel. I think I was able to write the first 30,000 words of Call to Arms in those 28 days (the final draft is around 150,000 words). Further, I do not accept the claims that Mr. Daws' revision techniques will yield a manuscript that every reputable publisher would accept.

If you're a nonfiction writer, I say go for it. If you're into writing something other than epic science fiction and fantasy works, you might try it and see if you can get your manuscript done in 28 days. You'll learn something useful nevertheless and they were very good about refunding my money "no questions asked" just as they promised so you don't have anything to lose.

12.29.2011

"Everything mankind does is much, much easier if you're ever so slightly drunk"

My good friend Stephen Heiner sent this video to me the other day, from the BBC show "Mitchell and Webb":


Got to love British humour. I enjoyed this one not least of which because I used to be very firmly in the camp to the teetotalers. Looking back I think that it actually isn't a particularly healthy attitude to treat drinking alcohol (in an of itself) as some sort of horrible sin. Working as a criminal lawyer I certainly see the terrible fruits that too much drinking bear, but I wonder if this isn't due in part to the prevailing attitude on drinking that (as with smoking) there is something inherently wrong about it.

In the Middle Ages people drank a lot of alcohol; wine was, for all intents and purposes the principle drink of that period, with beer and mead being seconds. It was consumed for pleasure and as a medicine. People of all walks of life would frequently drink posset (boiling wine and curdled milk) before bed. Yet I've come across nothing that would indicate alcoholism or degeneration were a problem (see Medieval Famines, Bread, and Wine at Tradition in Action for more)

Well, this is getting a bit deeper than my infrequent musings usually are. Maybe, simply "everything mankind does is much, much easier if you're ever so slightly drunk." A snifter of Brandy (as pictured in my introductory post) certainly never hurt the flow of the creative juices when writing.

12.28.2011

Call to Arms: Asebians (Alien Nation)

    The most hideous rejection of the Imperial tenets ever to emerge is that of the suicide Cult of Asebes which is believed to predate the Empire itself but only really enjoyed any meaningful growth in the last five hundred years. In the last century it has picked up considerable momentum as the hierophants of this vile creed infiltrate planets with promises of absolute liberty and immortality if their suicide rituals are followed. Sadly, in this confused and war-torn age, many succumb to the temptations, others join out of horror at the deadly invasion by the Asebians' Black Ships that always follows the hierophants. Those who do not convert are wiped out with a ruthlessness and barbarism matched only by the Anaketh -- though the Asebians execute this with cold calculation rather than the Anaketh's passion.

    The Asebians, colloquially known as Walking Dead, have a unique advantage over all other races in terms of military technology. This is thanks to many brilliant scientists joining their cult and sharing their knowledge with the group consciousness during the suicide ritual, coupled with the absolutely single-minded nature of this “race”.

Personality/Basic Philosophies: Like the Anaketh, they are bent on expanding their own realms and destroying the Empire in particular – although their “realm” is no political hegemony but rather an anarchistic conglomerate united by the suicide cult of Asebes. Only religious zeal and the slavery of walking death hold this race (if it can be called such) together as it has no culture – only continual expansion and war. The Dead’s shared consciousness functions at a much lower level than the Zelosians, making them near automatons rather than singularly determined individuals.

Physical Description: Surrounded by darkness, they appear as shadows of their former selves; whatever race they belonged to in life. He who can overcome his fear to look at them will see dim figures in various stages of decay with pale banners like wisps of cloud (when they use them) and weapons that are blackened and spindly remnants.

Homeworld: N/A -- They do not settle. When total domination of a planet is successfully prosecuted, a completely dead, barren, and abandoned wasteland is left behind as the Black Ships continue onwards their grim purpose. They have no need of food, water, or oxygen. Fuel and munitions are scavenged from vanquished enemies and from the scoured surface of victim worlds (they rework what they take aboard their ships).

Language: Various, although none other than the hierophants actually speak. Their shared consciousness suffices to render what communication is necessary.

12.27.2011

More Prometheus

Last month I posted some pictures from the upcoming film Prometheus, with my speculation that it looks to be a prequel to 1979's sci-fi classic "Alien". Last week the trailer for this film went up on the internet:



It seems to me that the producers are still trying to toy with viewers, suggesting that it may or may not be an "Alien" prequel. You don't actually see any of the iconic aliens or even facehuggers, but on the other hand the trailer is basically the original 1979 "Alien" trailer with new images. They use the same font with the title slowly phasing in, and the same synthetic "scream" sound. Take a look at the 1979 trailer and you'll see what I mean:



 When I stopped the Prometheus trailer at a few parts, there were a few things that led me to believe it IS a prequel to "Alien" (despite the producers obviously trying to play coy as a way of producing hype): at 00:34 you can definitely see a "Space Jockey" head on an examination table and at 00:44 the big chair/telescope thing that the fossilised space jockey corpse is in from the original film. For reference:



Not to mention the space jockey ship featured throughout the trailer (NB the walls in the pic posted above). So it's pretty clearly a film that takes place in the "Alien" universe. Maybe it will not actually feature the Aliens but will be about an encounter with the space jockeys? Could be interesting, and the trailer as a whole gives me a bit more interest than the initial photos did. All the same, I still don't like the clean, clearly-a-movie set with supermodel "crew" aesthetic (versus "maculate reality", one of my favourite things about the original), and I think Joss Whedon should sue them for ripping-off his firefly ship design. But we'll see.

12.26.2011

Rex Caelestis: War in the 23rd Century

From Hackmore, Donald Weapons of War: Modern Infantry Small Arms, Victoriana: Hector Military Books, 2270.

Despite all of the advancements in modern battlefield technology, none have replaced the simple infantryman as the most important and indispensable unit of planet-based combat. To the contrary, with the development of devastating weaponry that can be transported by a single man, such as the coil gun (the best known of these being the "long rifles" crafted in Hochstadt, of our own Kingdom of Yellowstone), the famed armoured fighting vehicles of Emperor Henry's days are in danger of extinction. It is well known that a footman of the Rederval, armed with a Hochstadt Longrifle, and aided by orbital relays and spotters can destroy even the most heavily armoured vehicle from as far away as 100km (if the shooter is positioned on a mountain or skyscraper; 5 km if standing at sea level, of course).

Add to this phase weaponry and the infanteer might be said to reign supreme on modern battlefields as never before. He is especially useful in limited conflicts that are on occasion allowed by the Emperor among certain subjects to settle disputes, or in dealing with small as-yet untamed pockets on our own Holy Earth. For the infantryman can be much more precise than orbital or A.F.V. bombardments, minimising harm to local civilians or the world population at large. In the lamentable, but inevitable conflicts between Christians, the Holy See has forbidden the use of modern weaponry and matters are thus settled by the sword and, once again, the armoured fighting vehicle has no place.

In the Martian Crusade, very few such vehicles were transported over the vast distances seperating Earth and the land of the god of war. Given the vast amounts of fuel and energy required to transport anything, it was deemed that a battalion of heavily armed infantrymen would be a better use of limited resources than a massive battle tank. This philosophy ulimately proved sound. In the crucial battle of that glorious armed pilgrimage, the Battle of the Hellas Impact Basin, the Catholic forces were comprised entirely of infantry, many of whom were orbitally inserted using grav-chutes.

12.23.2011

Short Story: CALL TO ARMS


WRITER'S NOTE: This is the short story that started it all. It was originally published in, the sadly now defunct, Hereditas Magazine. I so liked the world that I came up with for this story, and was intrigued by the young Serveus Kunar, that when I started getting into serious planning of a space fantasy novel I took both. Enjoy.

It was on his wedding day that Serveus Kunar finally became a complete man, but not at the nuptials themselves. It was afterwards, as he stepped from the cool darkness of the temple into the embracing warmth of the sun-bathed narthex and wedding guests cheered the new couple's debut that he took the fateful step.

He was a young nobleman of perfect proportions, strong of face, fit of body. His skin, however, tanned a light brown, was not the product of toil but of vacations in the family villa on the southern continent. On his right arm came his bride, Zia, radiant in a golden dress that flashed in the sunlight; the pride of Vitria and now his. Behind the crowd, a line of soldiers approached down the main road, black-clad magisterial acolytes at the fore bearing dark, flapping banners.

The soft pink pedals of the Lycinia trees, falling in the cool spring breeze, were ripped away as a low-flying shuttle tore through the air. In the unsettling quiet that followed in its wake, Serveus was keenly aware of his brideís tiny, cold fingers gripping his arm.

"Young sir," a voice called. Serveus looked down to see that an armoured man, about his fatherís age, had pushed through the wedding reception and was mounting the stairs. He wore an antique blaster inlaid with gold at his side, and a grey moustache twisted to stilletto points protruded outside his helmet. "Will you help us? The Anaketh landed a war host in Gallennon last night and will not rest there long."

The icy hand of fear grabbed Serveus' spine, but he fought it off with anger; how dare they conscript him on today, of all days? He considered a biting riposte to the demand, but Zia's tongue was quicker.
"Would you take my husband away from me, on my very wedding night?"
"I would not take him, madame," the old soldier said. "But I would ask his aid -- and yours in giving him up -- in the defence of our home and Empire."
"He has duties to his wife, now," Serveus' father barked, pushing the young groom aside.

Serveus clapped his free hand on his fatherís shoulder and addressed the soldier. "Centurion -- as I guess that's what you are -- your men make a pretty parade to help me celebrate my matrimony, but I don't see the Imperial standard. Your force is not sanctioned by the proprætor."

The scarred veteran lowered his eyes to the white flagstones. "With all the respect due our honourable proprætor, I must say his belief that the Anaketh are not enemies was proved wrong by the skies last night."
Serveus had seen that proof as he had paced throughout the night, unable to sleep, agonising over the wedding day. He glanced about quickly; he would never admit to anyone that he had been nervous, even fearful of his betrothed; an alluring and demanding woman. No, they couldnít know ... yet he had seen the twinkling amidst the night stars as ships had given up the ghost in bursts of light and lasers had scorched the upper atmosphere.

"What is that to me?"

"That's right, this is not your fight, son," his father nodded.

"A good question, young sir," the captain said. "It is a decision about who you are. Are you a man to give up without a fight, or one to struggle manfully when victory's not assured? A man of recreation or duty?"

To march a long, tiring path, then fight the vicious chelonian Anaketh, or recline at the well-adorned table his father had set for him and then to a well-deserved life practicing law in peace?

"I am no coward ..."
"You fanatics and your warmongering!" his father shouted, striking the marble parapet. "You will sacrifice these men in a hopeless cause! We cannot stand against the Anaketh; we should surrender and join them. They will be merciful. The Emperor will understand; God will understand. We don't have enough soldiers; there's hardly a quæstor these days to lead!"
"Can't stand, or won't?" Zia suddenly burst forth. Her eyes glistened like diamonds in the hot, bluish sun and her cheeks seemed cut of marble.

"Zia, I thought you ..." Serveus hesitated.

"The choice is yours, husband. I cannot make it for you." She bit her lip and said no more, but those hard, tear-encased eyes told him that she would die before signing a protection pact with an Anaketh master.
He looked over at his father. Unlike the centurion, a comfortable belly hung over his belt, beside which hung the sword that Serveus knew had never been drawn. He himself had tried once, years ago. Its hilt and scabbard were glistening and spotless, but the blade would not budge, rusted in place.
Could he not stand? Would he not? He looked out at the crowd, seeing in it the expectant faces of many young men. Serveusí family was prominent; many of them would follow his lead. He pulled his wife to him and kissed her gently on the forehead. Her dark eyelids fluttered down, brushing her cheeks like damp raven feathers as she acknowledged his choice.
"I will help you, Centurion." Shifting his gaze to the wedding guests, he added, "Which of you heroes is with me?"

The answering cheer drowned out Serveusí fatherís last protestation. He embraced Zia one last time, then followed the centurion down the steps.

Fin.

12.22.2011

Private Space Exploration

It's frequently shocked me that in the 1960s men were able to visit the moon at a time when the necessary calculations still had to be done with a pencil-and-paper, and that forty years later we have neither visited again nor gone any further. Things seem to have stalled as governments (except maybe the Chinese) have lost much interest in space exploration. And as much as I'm interested in space exploration, I'm not sure it's a bad thing for government to get out of it. Is it really something the public purse should be paying for? It certainly required bigger government and that's never good.  In my post entitled "And the stars will grant each man new home ..." I defended space exploration from the perspective of a Catholic/"Distributist"/"Back to the Land" economic perspective. And I think the key to this is private individuals rather than the tax payer funding such enterprises. Interestingly, this seems to be the way things are naturally progressing ...

I think the Russians, in practical non-hyper-safety-sensitive Slavic style, were the first to start with a sort of space tourism to help fund their space programme in a faltering economy. Starting in the 2001 they have sent seven fee-paying individuals into space. For $20-35 million USD a number of wealthy adventurers have been able to spend 1-2 weeks aboard the International Space Station (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_tourism)

A company called "SpaceX" is scheduled to conduct a flyby and docking with its unmanned "Dragon" capsule to the International Space Station on 7 February 2012 (cf. http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/12/09/spacex-will-be-first-private-company-to-embark-on-mission-to-international-space-station/).

More ambitiously, Virgin Galactic (owned by Sir Richard Branson), has been preparing for years to take the first tourists into space. For $200,000 USD, 430 very wealthy people will be able to fly on a suborbital flight into space. There's no firm timeline on when this will actually happen, but in May of 2011 a significant (successful) unmanned test flight was flown of their craft, so it may not be too many more years. They are also not the only ones doing this.

Amazingly (to me), there is also space travel as a form of advertisement as exemplified by the energy drink company Red Bull which plans to have their salaried stuntman Felix Baumgartner ascend to 120,000 feet in a stratospheric balloon and make a freefall jump that rushes toward Earth at supersonic speed before he parachutes to the ground. All to get the Red Bull logo a whole pile of exposure (Esquire Magazine has a fascinating article on this mission here: http://www.esquire.com/features/impossible/felix-baumgartner-skydive-0810).

So for now, it is the ultra-rich entertaining themselves, but it is a start. The earliest explorers in the Age of Discovery started out not too much differently -- they certainly relied on very wealthy benefactors to fund privately their projects. Certainly many turned their noses up at Columbus and the Italian investors and the Spanish crown but we all know the results. I believe that in like manner these early excursions into space may appear frivolous but will bear long-term exploratory fruit. 

12.21.2011

Call to Arms: The Anaketh (Alien Nation)

Perhaps the oldest and bitterest of the Empire’s enemies are the Anaketh, a powerful conglomerate of warlike nations that are ostensibly united under the oft-vacant office of Grand Vizier, although the various warlords battle among themselves nearly as often as with the Empire (which some say is the only thing that’s kept them from galactic domination). The Anaketh hold sway over a broad expanse of space including worlds in the Core Region and stretches out away from the Empire from there. Inhabitants of Outer Rim worlds have had almost no contact with the Anaketh until recently, when their dominions started a more rapid expansion due to the weakness of the New Order. Although they emerged as a galactic power in the 7th Millennium (when they overran a number of Core Worlds), the Anaketh have in fact been separated from the family tree of the Empire since many millennia before the formation of the Empire and are as such far different in appearance from humans than many other "alien" races.

Personality/Basic Philosophies:
Bent on expanding their own realms and destroying the Empire in particular. They are a passionate people, and while their government is totally dominated by warriors, not all Anaketh are violent. They have developed a substantial amount of culture independent of the Empire, unlike the Separatists and the Danausian Empire who stole everything of worth from the Empire.

Physical Description: Generally larger than humans, the chelonian Anaketh range from 1.7 to 2.5 metres in height and are solidly built, often weighing as much as half a tonne. They have thick, scaly hides that range in colour from shades of beige to black to metallic depending in part which part of the Anaketh domains they hail from. They have broad snouts and squarish heads that are indistinct from thick necks and jut out from between massive shoulders. They have small, round eyes inside sunken, dark eye sockets. Some have spiny ridges that line the top of their head, eye sockets, and knuckles. Their most disturbing attribute to humans is their long, thick, pointed tongues and often protrude from between rows of stiletto-like teeth.

Homeworld:  Various, including the dry, rocky, storm-swept Quessed (revered as founding world), the earth-like cultural jewel Grefaed (conquered in the early days of Anaketh expansionism), the ancient water paradise Faquze; others include Ceabe, Urlaan, Fahogre, Waetheth, Ioedin, Olbeha, Zehoen.

Language: The Anaketh speak Hamadic, a derivative of the ancient tongue spoken by humans in the pre-Empire days, adapted for their tongues. Many of them speak a growling, slurred Old High Imperial given that most of their extra-Anaketh contact is with the Empire.

12.20.2011

My "Nerd Test" Results

Stumbled across the "Nerd Test" while on a message board for one of my especially nerdy hobbies, that being Warhammer 40K (see the Toy Soldiers section). I took the test, and the fact that I'm (a) not surprised, and (b) proud of my results, proved even more that I am a geek!

12.19.2011

Rex Caelestis: Astrogators' Guild Customs

Many outsiders have wondered at the customs of the Imperial Astrogators' Guild, especially military men, have taken note of the Guildsmens' use of such courtesies as "if you please" when issuing orders. Some have gone so far as to object to senior Guild officers that they are not behaving in an appropriate fashion my phrasing their orders as genteel requests. Any Guild officers could accurately and appropriately respond that all of his orders are immediately and carefully followed.

Yet this does not answer the question of how and why this custom arose. One may find it contradictory when considering other aspects of Guild discipline that is rather harsh, including the use of flagellation and execution by explosive decompression for serious violations of regulations. The use of such courtesies as "if you please" in issuing orders, as well as the use of fine china for officers and multi-course mess dinners aboardship have the same purpose: the promotion of a civilized and courteous atmosphere aboardship to strengthen the fraternal bonds between guildmembers while recognising the various ranks within the Guild.

The use of "if you please" when issuing orders was first introduced into Guild regulations during the reforms that followed Emperor Henry's reorganisation of the Guild into it's final form and granting its Imperial Charter. Such practices had exited in an unofficial capacity in certain local chapters many decades previously and in at least one of the national astronaut's associations that was amalgamated into the Guild, that being the Spacefarers of St. George under the leadership of Sir Albert Darcy.

12.17.2011

Lord of the Rings (Boardgame Review)


Name: Lord of the Rings
Game Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A wonderful family game with unique co-operative-play ruleset based on the Lord of the Rings novel, wherein the players take on the roles of the hobbits as they attempt to take the Ring of Power to the Cracks of Doom

For any family with children at least ten years of age, and fans of the Lord of the Rings (without it, the game may not make as much sense), this is a game that I highly recommend. The aspect that I really like for families is the fact that it's a co-operative game rather than a competitive one, where the players must work together against the game itself to avoid the corrupting influence of Sauron and destroy the Ring of Power.

The rules are very unique to support this concept, but work very well. We warned, however, this game is very tough to beat, even once you've "figured out" the "tricks" to it. Even when the players work together, victory is far from assured, and disaster guaranteed if they don't cooperate.

The game is played on two game boards, one that tracks the progress of the Fellowship and monitors each member's level of corruption, and the other is in fact a series of four boards that represent the four "scenarios" that must be traversed -- Moria, Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, and finally Mordor. Below is a picture borrowed from Board Game Geek showing the two boards, the one on the left being what I've called the "scenario board" with white markers showing the fellowship's progress on three different tracks (only one of which must be fully traversed to beat a scenario, strictly speaking, but with important items to be collected on the others). On the right is the board showing how close to succumbing to Sauron the hobbits have gone.



The game mechanics involve the use of tiles and cards. Each turn, each player in sequence must draw a tile with a symbol on it that corresponds to one of the three tracks on each scenario board. This will then allow the Fellowship to progress one space on that track. Moving along the tracks, they will collect shield tokens which can be used to purchase special Gandalf cards (which come in very handy in a pinch), or to try to counteract some of the events that can occur whenever someone draws one of the dreaded event tiles -- which general involve bad things that happened in the novel. The secondary tracks also provide heart, ring, and sun tokens which must be collected by each player before the end of a scenario otherwise they will take "corruption" and move closer to Sauron. They are also dealt a hand of cards which may be used to progress further on these tracks. Special cards received at various places in the game bring non-hobbit characters like Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, et al into play.

Each of the hobbits has a unique ability which must be used carefully to the benefit of the whole group. Players are allowed to discuss what cards they have in their hands (but may not show the cards) to decide how to try to complete a given scenario. Many of the bad events allow a player other than the one that incurred the event to take the penalty adding to the cooperative aspect. If the ringbearer is touched by the Sauron piece, the game is over as Sauron has captured the ring. Below is a scenario where the ring is very close to being taken, also showing some of the tiles and cards:



Aside from the co-operative play, another nice aspect of this game is that it can be played in about 60 minutes (rather than the hours upon hours that many of my favourite games involve). It also can be played with as few as two players which is a rare treat for those of us that don't have children old enough yet (or frequent house-guests interested or able to stay for such a game). The only downside is that it may have limited appeal to people not interested in Lord of the Rings, although if they've at least read it or seen the films (which most people have) they should enjoy the game.

On the whole, I find it to be a most unique, enjoyable, and challenging game. Be sure to keep track of your scores on the sheet that is provided for the purpose. It being so hard to actually beat the game, this adds a level of at least trying to beat your previous best score. Again, I especially recommend this game to families. Not that competition is bad, but it is nice to have a game that teaches cooperation in the collection.


12.16.2011

Some Works-in-Progress


With a sick wife and infant in the house, and I just getting over a lengthy bout myself, I unfortunately wasn't equal to the task of getting something finished up this week. However, I thought reader may be interested in seeing some of the things I'm working on. The first (above) is the pencilled but un-inked page 3/4 of a short comic on St. James and the Battle of Clavijo. I intend to do several such short comics depicting the more militant side of sanctity.

Next up, we have some of the "toy soldiers" I'm working on as part of my truly recreational past-time (writing being somewhat serious):


This is the painted (but not based) version of the conversion I have posted in the Toy Soldiers section. I've named him Inquisitor Soulis -- I forget where I got the name, but it's been the name of the fictional leader of my "army" for many years. The "fluff", or background material/storyline is a good chunk of the fun of playing Warhammer 40,000.


Here we have a flame-throwing tank called a "Hellhound".


And some "Inquisitorial Storm Troopers" who work directly for The Inquisition and Soulis.


Now some "Rough Riders" who are cavalry armed with explosive-tipped lances who are part of the regular army group inducted into service to the Inquisition by Soulis.


And, finally, proof that the pen really is mightier than the sword, "Penal Legionnaires" based on my long-time friend Brock's army that I used to clash frequently with. They are now basically slaves. The one in the black trench coat used to be a commissar from Brock's army who killed my army's general in a battle we reported online (at the now defunct batreps.com). He lost his arm and became a penal legionnaire in revenge.

12.15.2011

Another Earth-Like Planet?


 Last week the astronomy community was all abuzz over the discovery of an "earth-like" planet about 600 lightyears away which was rather unimaginatively named "Kepler 22b". Apparently the reason for such bland naming as Kepler 22b, HD 85512, and Gliese 581d is that "It would slow everything down: you would need an international system. And these planets are being discovered at a rate of one a day or so' (so says Dr. Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh cf. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/8937818/Exoplanet-Kepler-22b-why-do-these-planets-get-such-dull-names.html#.Tt4nM4LL9CE.email).

Well, that seems a somewhat lazy reason to me, but it may be just as well, since who knows what sort of foolish names modern scientists might give planets (they can always be re-named if people actually visit or colonise these places). But back to the planet itself, it has an average temperature of 72 degrees or 22 Celcius.  Of course, they don't actually know if it has an atmosphere so who knows if it's actually habitable. Apparently Mars is within the "habitable zone" around our own sun but due to its marginal atmosphere is rather inhospitable.

As an aspiring science fiction writer, the discovery of a planet within this zone is certainly of interest to me and hopefully one day we'll visit such places. Faster-than-light travel will be necessary to reach such distant objects, however.

12.14.2011

Call to Arms: The New Order

Ah, that’s a slippery creature to define. It is a beast with many heads and more tentacles which have wound their way throughout the Empire. One might summarize it as the new régime controlling the Empire after the Estates General.

Varas Solabius, Call to Arms; Chapter VII: "Departures"

The Estates General, a general meeting of all senior Magistrates in the Empire, were convene for the first time in nearly ten millennia on the eve of the 21st millennium.  One the first day of the council, a group of powerful consuls from the core-world Augustclavii (“the Ninety Delegates”) stormed out of the Consular Senate Chambers in protest when their leader’s motion, demanding that the “oppressive” procedures (including set session length) and pre-prepared legal drafts be discarded,  was ruled out of order .  In the Platea Oliro Courtyard they swore an oath not to return until their demands were met. After a week-long stand-off, the Emperor gave-in to their demands and they were re-admitted.




Thus was the New Order born. The Ninety Delegates ultimately forced the Estates General into indefinite session, thus arrogating to the Consular Senate hitherto unknown power to legislate and set policy versus the traditional absolute rule of the Emperor. Civil war erupted when seven-hundred of the Magistrates present revolted against this coup, vowing to end the Estates General by any means necessary. Blood initially ran in the very chambers of the Estates then erupted into full interstellar war.



After fifty years of brutal warfare that saw entire planets eradicated and the ranks of the Magistracy and the Acolyte nobility alike greatly depleted, the Ninety Delegates had established the primacy of the New Order and what remained of the Seven Hundred were now but the scattered "Old Loyalists" existing on the outermost margins of Imperial life.



The most obvious tenets of the New Order that differentiate it from the Ancien Régime is their denial of The Disease (see Introduction), the downplaying of the Magistrates in favour of a more "democratic" governance of the Empire, and an extremely pacifist posture towards the alien nations.

12.13.2011

1911 v. 2011 Book Length

After watching the John Carter of Mars trailer, I decided to revisit those books of my youth and was happy to discover that they're available in anthology format at Amazon.com for the Kindle for $0.99. Since you can't go far wrong buying any book for $0.99 I went for it and found that I did still enjoy them.

One thing that I noticed was the book length. A Princess of Mars was first published in 1917 and weighs in at about 160 pages. In contrast to this, a more recent novel I've read was A Game of Thrones which is 720. The interesting thing, to me, was that about as much happens, in terms of major plot events, in both novels. I've noticed this trend and many (but not all) of my older books: Witch World is 222 pages, The Hobbit is 320 pages and both have a lot happen over that span. Newer books tend to be much larger; all of the "Song of Ice and Fire" books are over 700 pages. Modern publishers require that manuscripts be a minimum of 100,000 words (about 300 pages) to even consider a submission.

I find this interesting since, in the age of television, video games, and twitter, one would expect readers to be demanding shorter, crisper works. Not that I mind the longer works, I do enjoy the greater depth and detail, and more characters (Princess of Mars has one point of view character, A Game of Thrones has seven, if memory serves). Perhaps modern readers feel that they don't get their money's worth in shorter works. I think it is also true that the craft of writing has advanced somewhat -- in reading The Death of Christian Culture one will be convinced that it has certainly declined in some respects, but I do find that modern works of science fiction and adventure novels tend to be better.

12.12.2011

Rex Caelestis: Thoughts on the last Sunday After Pentecost

From the diary of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VIII, or Supreme Ruler of Russia Henryk Severnov as he was at the time of writing ..."

24 November, 2179

Today I was reading the Roman Missal that Fr. Gonzalez gave me and turned to the Mass for this Sunday past. If I had the courage of my convictions I would have attended that Mass. I pray that God will give me the graces to do what needs to be done.

The passage that struck me was from the gospel, from that of St. Matthew, chapter 24: "And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And He shall send His angels with a trumpet and a loud voice, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them."

When Colonel Konstantinov launched into orbit aboard the "Tsar Nicholas II" in July, we confirmed that the One World Government sent its minions out into space. I knew then that my dreams of space exploration were well-founded, for our defence. But I find in this passage another inspiration -- or a confirmation of the prime motivation of my great dream that I've harboured for many years.

Though Earth be the cradle of mankind, we are destined to rule all of God's creation which He gave into Adam's stewardship. And when the time comes, the Lord God will collect us all, wherever we may be, for the Final Judgement.

12.10.2011

Book of the New Sun: Shadow and Claw (Book Review)


Title: The Book of the New Sun: Shadow and Claw
Authors: Gene Wolfe
Publisher: Bantam
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: Masterfully crafted, eloquent, and original first two novels following Severian, Journeyman of the Torturer's Guild, but not for the faint of heart due to adult content and "heavy" language.

Shadow and Claw is a compilation of the first two novels of The Book of the New Sun, a fantasy/sci-fi quadrology set in a far-future and post-apocalyptic earth (called "Urth" by the inhabitants). It is a very unique novel, so unique that I'd urge caution upon anyone approaching it because it will be unlike anything you've read before. Therefore, one must set aside any preconceived notions about fantasy or expectations when picking up the novel.

The novel is told from the first-person perspective of Severian, initially a novice and then a journeyman of the "Torturers' Guild". In this far-future setting this guild carries out the punishments ordered by the mysterious and remote emperor. This in itself makes the novel unique and the main character an interesting one, who has a certain personal code of honour but has been raised from birth among a group of men who carry out brutal acts with a certain professional pride. He falls in love with one of the "clients" which leads to his fall from grace with the guild and is sent out to travel to a remote town to act as executioner as a punishment that will save the honour of the guild. Many strange and interesting episodes ensue. A very original and fully developed/realised future earth serves as a fantastic setting.

The writing is fairly dense, but extremely eloquent. Award-winning science fiction author Michael Swanwick has said: "Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it ... among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning." I am inclined to agree and the rich prose is a big part of the enjoyment to be had in reading this series. Many wonderful arcane words are used to add to the feel of a foreign world, but it is not a particularly easy read as a result.

I do have some difficulties with the amount of adult content in the novels and certainly they should not be read by anyone other than a mature adult. There are a few fairly graphic sex scenes that made me uncomfortable, although I think they were realistic to the circumstances. Although one must comment that Severian is a bit too "irresistible" to women and my ability to suspend disbelief was taking a bit of a beating with the frequency at which women who've only just met him throw themselves at him. Yet on the other hand I think it offers a brutally honest portrayal of human nature -- and I say this not solely in reference to the "naughty bits" but to the behaviour of characters in general.

I have found over time that this is a novel that has really "stuck" with me and I find myself thinking about it over time leading me to re-read it at intervals. It is not for everyone, but certainly worth a try. I've not yet read Sword and Citadel, the final two installments of the novel.




12.09.2011

St. Nicholas of Myra, Bishop and Confessor

This past week was my name day, and therefore I was inspired to draw this picture depicting a dramatic episode from the life of St. Nicholas. Most people think of St. Nicholas as a jolly old elf of a bishop who gave presents to poor children. The REAL St. Nicholas was a much more interesting and militant character.

St. Nicholas, as Bishop of Myra, was summoned by Blessed Emperor Constantine to the Council of Nicæa, the First Ecumenical Council. At the council, Arius was called upon to explain his heretical views, and thus he started preaching before Council Fathers. St. Nicholas listened as Arius attacked the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Crhist, becoming more and more full of righteous anger. Finally he became so enraged that he charged at Arius and struck the heretic a mighty blow! Some accounts say it was a "slap" others a "punch". I went with the punch as it's more dramatic and more in keeping with the righteous anger the great saint must have felt in the face of insults to Our Lord.

Unfortunately, the assemblage of Bishops blamed St. Nicholas for the altercation. He was expelled from the Council and the Emperor had him stripped of his Episcopal vestments and thrown in prison. That night, our the Lord appeared to the Emperor and demanded that he free and reinstate St. Nicholas, for his only motive in attacking Arius had been his all-consuming love of Him. The Emperor obeyed at once. When the jailor went to release St. Nicholas, the Saint was found sitting in his cell clothed in his Episcopal vestments, reading the Gospels. He related that our Blessed Lord and Lady had appeared to him, our Lord giving him the book of the Gospels (one of the symbols of the Episcopal Office) and our Lady restoring to him his vestments. He was restored to his rightful place at the Council, which proceeded to side with him against Arius, utterly condemning the Arian heresy and composing the Nicæan Creed to protect the Orthodoxy of the Faithful.

12.08.2011

John Carter of Mars -- New Trailer

Last week a new trailer for Disney's "John Carter of Mars" was released. It definitely looks better than the original teaser I posted. I still have reservations about how it appears they've reworked Dejah Thoris into "D&D Warrior Babe" and tinkered with the plot (what on earth was that lightening disintegration gun supposed to be -- I don't remember that), but I was glad to see many of the most memorable scenes from the books pictured in the trailer (such as Dejah Thoris' almost-wedding to Sab Than, the evil prince of Zodanga, the meeting of Woola, leading the Tharks against Zodanga)



So now I think I probably will see it, perhaps even in the theatre. But I shall try to keep my expectations low!

12.07.2011

Call to Arms: Technology

Call to Arms is a space fantasy, so obviously they have far-advanced technology to our own. In this post I'd like to highlight a few of these. The inventions of prime importance are:

  • "Faster-than-light travel", although ships do not travel faster than light they can cross vast distances in a relatively short time through the use of the "Epulone generator" which allows them to enter "The Empyrean";
  • robots;
  • subspace communications; 
  • electronic warfare/disruption such that only line-of-sight or unguided weaponry can be used; and
  • blasters. 
All of these technologies are so ancient that they have faded into the background of everyday life and most people take them for granted, even if they don’t use some of them or their planet does not have them in large supply.

Due to the immensity of the Empire, the use of technology is not uniform. The Core Worlds have been civilized and united under the Empire for millennia and as such, have all the "newest" technology. The Mid-Rim worlds are somewhat of a mixed bag but for the most part have all the futuristic technology. Outer Rim worlds like Voystra (planet that Varas Solabius crash-lands on in Chapter I) have indigenous technology that is much more primitive. In the case of Voystra, the prevailing tech level is comparable to 18th century earth. Another Outer-Rim (verging on Mid-Rim) planet we see in the novel is Vendôme which is closer to late 20th century technology. Hi-tech items can still be obtained (although they are prohibitively expensive to import -- as such, one character notes that a simple blaster on Voystra is worth more than the capital of an entire village). In the cities with starports imported goods are easier to obtain and will be seen more frequently there.

12.06.2011

Importance of an Ordered Life

Some might wonder how a man who is the sole proprietor of a law practice, has four children under the age of five, runs a writer's group, a blog, and plays with toy soldiers still has time to write novels. For myself, it all boils down to the cultivation of one virtue, that is the spirit of order. The Catholic Manual of Civility, explains:

The spirit of order is a most precious quality. It should be included as one of the most indispensable attributes of a man in his private as well as his social life, because it extends itself beneficially to our personal actions as well as our relations with our neighbour.

This most beautiful attribute exercises a decisive influence over a man's success in life. Order gives value to our talents and qualities, and makes them fecund, just as its absence renders our highest aspirations barren and our best gifts futile.

Order is economy of time and money. It allows us to give a better quality and greater quantity of results in both our material and intellectual labours because with it, we take full advantage of time, avoiding dawdling, delay, and doubt.


In practice, this means living a regulated life. I know that most writers, being creative spirits, will balk at this idea, but it has allowed be to get far far more writing done than I ever did before. Despite having less "free time" than in any other period of my life, my writing output has actually increased.

Regulating your life boils down to prioritization, scheduling and habit. Determine what you need to get done each day, and plan what you will do when. It doesn't need to be carved in stone, but I (and my family) has a very regular routine even though we have no written schedule. But dinner is at a certain time, the family rosary at another, and bedtime at yet another. An important key is not to include opportunities for dissipation in this schedule. I'll discuss dissipation in another post.

Catholic Manual of Civility. Ed. Horvat, Marian T., Ph.D. Tradition in Action. Los Angeles: 2008. p. 19

Available for sale at http://www.traditioninaction.org/books.htm; 160 pp.; $16.

12.05.2011

Rex Caelestis: The Imperial Astrogators' Guild

From the Imperial Encyclopædia (2270)

The Imperial Astrogators' Guild is a voluntary paramilitary organisation with a corporate responsibility for the good conduct of its members and their mutual liability. The guild provides for the training and oversight of astronauts and inspection of spacecraft before launch.

The guild's origins may be found in the Space-Faring Veterans Association founded by Valentin Ivanovich Konstantinov, the famous pilot of the "Tsar Nicholas II", in the year 2180. After his historic flight of 21 July 2179, numerous flights followed. Although these were piloted by capable pilots of the Russian Air Force, there were several accidents, and Colonel Konstantinov was concerned that not enough specialised training was received, nor adequate mutual support among those brave few that had left Earth's atmosphere. A devout Catholic, he was also desirous of providing for the spiritual well-being of his comrades and he felt that a special association outside the normal military chain-of-command was needed for this. It started out as an informal association as Colonel Konstantinov gathered his colleagues for regular meetings after-hours in the officer's mess at Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Supreme Ruler Henryk Severnov (as he then was), though not yet formally converted to Catholicism, had by this time been publicly favouring Catholics for years. He therefore granted official recognition to the organisation in 2181 and it was renamed the Imperial Space-Faring Veterans Association. Supreme Leader Henryk gifted to them the ancient Baikonur launch facility, and the training of full-time astronauts recruited from the various military branches was handed over to them despite strong opposition from the Air Force. Members of the Association also took part in the inspection of craft and liased with other guilds forming in those years that constructed various parts of new spacecraft. As their skills and safety of their flights increased, and their fame spread along with the Pax Imperium of Russia, they became sought after by non-Russian nations as advisors to assist in their own space exploration efforts.

On 18 September, 2182 the group was re-founded as a guild with official Royal Charter, named the Royal Astrogators' Guild. St. Joseph Cuptertino was formally adopted as their patron. The Guild was granted great autonomy and Baikonur and its environs is made a feif owing fealty directly to the Russian Crown.

On 18 September, 2202, Emperor Henryk again reorganised the Guild, granting it the title Imperial Astrogators' Guild and amalgamating a number of the lesser astronauts' unions throughout the Empire into it. A purple uniform is adopted to differentiate Guild astronauts from those directly answerable to a national government. The Guild charter makes it answerable directly to the Holy See in the interests of keeping it apolitical and independent -- concentrating therefore on the increase in skill and science. Baikonur and the Guild's various outposts throughout the globe are gifted outright to the Guild, relieving them of any duties of vassalage hitherto imposed in return for those lands.

This allows for standardised training and greater coordination. Although no nation is prevented from maintaining its own space programmes, the Astrogators' Guildsmen swiftly come to dominate the most important positions aboard vessels of every nation as their skills are highly sought-after. In this way, the Imperial Astrogators' Guild is completely self-sufficient, supporting itself through "hiring out" its astronauts and consultants. Over time, this made the Guild fabulously wealthy and powerful, proving the wisdom of Emperor Henryk in unselfishly granting them full autonomy. They therefore continue quietly in their pursuit of excellence in space travel, rather than becoming embroiled in politics.

During the Martian Crusade, the Guild developed a new branch within its organisation, being the Imperial Astrogators' Guild Marines. They are given a uniform of a very dark black/purple and are concerned with combat in space (zero-gee, vacuum, &c.) and planetary landings. They took a vow to defend all Catholics outside of Earth's confines, and this vow was soon adopted by all members of the Guild. Many flocked to the Guild Marines given its appeal to the two great passions of that age, being religious fervour and military prowess. They became a highly effective force that played a major role in the Martian Crusade. Their finest hour came at the Battle of the Ellas Impact Basin, 7 October, 2264, where a cohort of their number were orbitally paradropped to break-out embattled Imperial forces. Though their losses were greivous, with only a quarter of the original number surviving the battle, the losses inflicted were ten to one and turned the tide of the battle leading to the decisive Imperial victory. After this battle, Our Lady of Olympus Mons was added as co-patron of the Guild.

When the divers rulers of the realms of the Empire started discussing the construction of deep space exploration vessels in the second decade of the 23rd century, the Guild was asked to take an advisory role and helped coordinate between the various nations and guilds involved. When the I.S.S. Rex Caelestis was launched with its five year mission to explore nearby solar systems, it was placed under the command of an Imperial Astrogators' Guildsman, Admiral Martinus Cornwallis Leocorde.

12.03.2011

Serenity (Movie Review)


Title:
Serenity
Director and Writer: Joss Whedon
Producer: Universal Studios
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gina Torres, and Summer Glau
Excellence: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A fantastic space opera with strong anti-utopian themes, interesting characters, and lots of action.

This film came out in 2005, so is a little bit old, but well worth revisiting. It is in fact one of my favourite films. It is a space opera, but not just any space opera. It is the best in the genre I've ever seen, combining everything that made the original Star Wars movies better than the "prequels", but with modern special effects and better actors and characters.

First, a quick plot synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:
The crew of Serenity will take any job, even if that job isn't exactly legal. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew take small smuggling and robbery jobs to keep their ship afloat, and to stay under the radar of The Alliance, the galactic conglomerate that not only rules the galaxy, but was on the opposite side of the war Mal lost years ago. But when Simon (Sean Maher) and his unstable, telepathic sister, River (Summer Glau) join the crew, they get in much more trouble than they bargained for. A government operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is after River, because she stumbled onto a secret no one was supposed to know... and the alliance will do anything to get her back.


I've never seen even a second of the TV series "Firefly", but I was not lost at all in this film and enjoyed it immensely. In fact, it is the only movie in years (save the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) that I thought was worth seeing more than once in the theatre, and my wife and I in fact watched it three times.

I really can't say enough about how enjoyable this film is to watch. Suprisingly, it did quite poorly at the box office and was on the big screen for a few short weeks only (or maybe not surprising -- many of my favourite films, like Blade Runner and Event Horizon tanked at the box office). I'm not sure why it was so unpopular, because despite the anti-utopian themes that I alluded to at the very beginning of this review, it had all the things that one would expect to make a blockbuster: good characters, good storyline, good special effects, good action.

The overarching theme of the film is more Catholic than I'm sure the writer could imagine. This manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Anti one-world government - "The Alliance" is run by an intergalactic "parliament" which manipulates and controls the masses through the media, and will brook no contradiction. Their agents are brutal and merciless.
  • Anti-evolution of man/anti-utopian - At one point in the film, Captain Reynolds attack's the Alliance's attempts to further mould man in the image they desire through the use of genetic manipulation via drugs saying, "I do not hold to that". The results of their attempts are horrific, but also an extrapolation of where the social engineering in our own world is headed (see the film to learn more).
  • Pro- some old-world values - Although the crew of Serenity is rather rough around the edges, the also practice a great deal of self-sacrifice, loyalty, and courage.

Now, it definitely has some modernist elements to it and I'm 99% sure the writer/director Joss Whedon is an atheist and it shows, but overall, it's much better than the vast majority of Hollywood films in terms of the messages it tries to convey.

I'll try to sum up quickly the other things that I loved about this film: the special effects sequences were nicely understated (unlike the recent Star Wars movies which sometimes felt like watching someone else play a video game) and when they did appear they were done very well. All of the action sequences were meaningful to the plot. The characters were very realistic and engaging.

As one review I read stated: "for those looking for an original and thrilling movie experience, this will shock and amaze." I think I felt walking away from Serenity a little of what people from a previous generation felt walking out of Star Wars the first time in 1977. Even if you aren't a science fiction fan, put this on your list of movies to watch.


12.02.2011

Short Story: IN THE MATTER OF HIS MAJESTY THE KING AND THE PEOPLE

By Nicholas Wansbutter

WRITER'S NOTE: This tale was written in about an hour as a bit of whimsy -- please take it as such and not as an attempt at serious fiction. In that context I still hope you enjoy it for what it is.

The Empty Casque Tavern was renowned as one of the great locations in Theudis wherein debates on all manner of topic, unhindered by controversy or taboo, were to be had. The king, overly tolerant according to some of his advisors, benignly overlooked the seditious rantings found there. It was thus that two old friends, Santere and Hermand, found themselves catching up, then reminiscing, then arguing across from one another at one of the Casque’s round oaken tables. It had been years since they studied together at the University of Theudis and there was a lot of all three to be had.

Santere had before him a fashionable cup of tea imported by trade caravans from the east, and one of his pretty but over made-up female admirers sitting on his lap. Of the two, he was the most intelligent, considered a prodigy when they studied at the University, although he was also lazy and thus made his living making outrageous speeches in places like the Casque (for in those days in the capital, there were those who could use such eloquent liberals to their political gain).

Hermand, on the other hand, was enjoying the pleasures of a snifter of brandy and an enormous and disreputable wooden pipe that he could nearly rest on his round belly. He was not as smart as Santere, but had worked hard to build a modest legal practice with which he supported his wife and five children. Had Santere been more honest with himself, he would have admitted that he envied Hermand, and moreover that he enjoyed the buttered-rum scent of the latter’s tobacco, but his unswerving devotion to enlightened ideology would allow for neither.

“Hermand, I can’t concentrate on my arguments with that vile smudge pot between us!”

“And I can scarce ponder the depths of two plus two with that strumpet astride your legs!”

“Really, Hermand, you’ve become such a puritanical, intolerant bigot since university!” said Santere, although he kissed the girl on the neck and shooed her away. Heat rose in his cheeks when Hermand continued to puff on his pipe. “What would your wife think of such boorish language?”

“Well, I should think,” said Hermand, blowing a smoke ring up towards the beclouded rafters to needle Santere the more. “She’s wont to call an eggplant an eggplant.”

“What a horrid turn of phrase! What if there were eastlanders here?”

Hermand shrugged and raised his glass as if making a toast. “I’d bid them join me for a drink, purple skin and all, and offer a toast to His Majesty the King.”

“The king!” Did you learn nothing at the university? The monarchy is obsolete --”

“Watch your tongue now, Santere --”

“Aha! Typical of a close-minded reactionary, you won’t brook any contradiction, will you? Dom Berenfroy --”

“Should be defrocked and burned, but for the king’s overindulgence of renegade scholastics!” Hermand knocked back the last of his brandy and his meaty cheeks turned a darker shade of red.

“You arrogant jackass!” Santere felt like throwing his tea in Hermand’s face, but settled on banging a bony hand on the table, given the price of the former. “The people won’t tolerate the sort of tyranny you stand for. The oppression will end ere long and we’ll soon have a republic, you’ll see.”

“Please, spare me, Santere. Oppressed? This from an unemployed layabout who’s still well fed in Couronne, the wealthiest nation --”

“And most enlightened! But I suppose you’re too busy churning out more brats to read anything, judging by your proud ignorance.”

“If anyone’s ignorant, it’s people like you who can cling to utopian hallucinations when just over the border there’s republicans all right, and piles of bodies as tall as the cathedral in Waldassen.”

“Bah. In the end, all this doesn’t matter. The future is here, the king is as good as dead.”

“Now you’ve gone too far, Santere.” Hermand stood and clenched his meaty fists. “Now take that back!”

Santere had not mentally prepared himself for the possibility of a physical confrontation. He suddenly found he had no retort and fell backwards off his seat as he tried to rise. But being the favourite demagogue of those of a progressive persuasion at the Casque (which happened to be nearly the whole clientele), there were several drunken brawlers to come to his aid. As Hermand moved to help his friend up and apologise for his angry outburst, he was struck over the head by one such ruffian, wielding a bottle, and tumbled to the floor where a quartet of sloshed university students showed him the soles of their shoes.

Santere, having recovered his courage, and quite caught up with the moment, urged his disciples on until Hermand moved no more.

“The people have spoken!”


* * *


Alas, the idealistic brutes were as good at fighting as at dreaming about republics, and Hermand died early the next morning. The King’s Chausseurs did what investigation as they could, given the other unrest in the city, and a warrant was issued for Santere’s arrest. He was able to evade capture for a long time as the king’s power waned and the city convulsed with revolution. However, after seven years, the king did return and the Chausseurs had not lost their store of documents.

Thus, one crisp, sunny morning in late fall, Santere found himself again near the Empty Casque, only this time he was being dragged up to the gibbet that had been erected across from the tavern. The executioner summed everything up as he pulled the trapdoor lever.

“The king has spoken!”

Fin.

12.01.2011

Extra-Terrestrial Sentient Life

As a Catholic who enjoys reading and writing science fiction, one dilemma I've had to consider is theologically, is the existence of non-human sentient beings possible? At first blush, it may seem problematic because there is no mention of life outside of Earth in the Bible or traditional theology. There is the fact that Jesus Christ (not only God, but a human being) is the saviour for the entire universe -- so where would that leave non-human sentient creatures? It is interesting to consider how they might fit into God's Plan and how we might explain same to nonbelievers or fellow Catholics who might be shaken (some could think the existence of "aliens" means that evolution is true, or that Adam and Eve did not exist, &c.).

I've discussed this topic a number of times with fellow Catholics and there seem to be a few lines of thought. The first question is whether they are ensoulled creatures or not?

One line of thought is that if sentient creatures had souls, then God would have to have a different salvation plan for them than for humans, since they would not be descendents of Adam. They could be more like angels (not fallen) or I suppose they could be fallen and in need of redemption but this raises further issues as Christ is the redeemer of all yet how can he redeem non-human creatures who are not descendents of Adam? However, those who hold this view would say that God might have a totally different salvation plan for life on other planets.

I prefer the "simpler" solution that non-human sentient life could not be ensouled life. I don't really see how ensouled life that didn't descend from Adam and Eve could be compatible with the Creation narrative in Holy Writ. However, if I may quote Steve Skojec of happy blogging memory: "[t]here is nothing explicit in our understanding of Christ's redemptive sacrifice for us that would exclude the possibility of other races with immortal souls that could follow alternate, or even similar, paths of redemption." He uses angels as an example of ensouled creatures with a different path from humans. Or maybe there are hints in the "And other sheep I have that are not of this fold: them also I must bring. And they shall hear my voice: And there shall be one fold and one shepherd." (John X,xvi); could the sheep "not of this fold" be ensouled creatures from another world and of different parents than Adam and Eve?

Let me return to what constitutes ensouled life? The soul is rational but this could be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for ensoulment. My view is that, to be ensouled, one must be infused with the faculty to know and love God (even if that faculty, like the rational one, is never actuated by the development of some individuals). It is clear to me that rationality itself does not equal ensoulement because some apes, parrots, mynah birds, and porpoises are supposedly self-aware but not ensouled and not able to comprehend the concept of God.

I think it could therefore be possible to have highly intelligent, sentient, even civilized and technologically advanced beings than nevertheless have no souls. I think an excellent speculative example of this are the "Moties" in the novel, The Mote in God's Eye. Unfortunately, the book only has the ship's chaplain pondering the question of whether they're ensouled in one scene and I really thought they should have developed that theme more (I'm not sure why they even bothered with that one scene).

While the question is never answered in the novel, it is my opinion that the aliens encountered by humans in the book (the "Moties") are indeed soul-less creatures yet highly intelligent (in fact, their technology is superior to humans' and they can develope new technology at a terrifyingly fast rate). I say they are souless because they really have no ability to choose between right and wrong -- everything they do in the novel is dictated by their biological imperatives. I don't want to ruin the book for any of you if you've not read it.
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